March 28, 2009
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - After dropping the series opener by one run on Saturday afternoon at the Lee Softball Stadium, No. 9 Tennessee (26-7, 4-4 SEC) rebounded in the doubleheader finale against Mississippi State by banging out 13 hits to back a four-hit shutout from senior Danielle Pieroni and defeat the Bulldogs, 8-0 (5 inn.).
Freshman third baseman Jessica Spigner delivered a 2-for-3 effort at the plate with three RBIs and her league-best 13th home run of the campaign. The big fly tied her with former Lady Vol Carrie Swinford for the UT freshman single-season record established back in 1996, the year before the Southeastern Conference officially began sponsoring softball.
Junior first baseman Tiffany Huff (2-for-3, run scored) knocked in three more runs to improve her season RBI total to 52 through just 33 contests. That total is already two more RBIs than she posted during her entire 2008 NFCA All-South Region campaign (50 RBIs).
Sophomore catcher Jen Lapicki improved her SEC-only batting average to a staggering .522 (12-of-23) by going 3-for-3 at the plate, while freshman designated player Shelby Burchell also posted three hits in a trio of at-bats. Junior right fielder Nicole Kajitani (1-for-2) and sophomore center fielder Kelly Grieve (1-for-3) each also knocked in a run in the contest.
Pieroni (5-1) was outstanding in the doubleheader finale, striking out three and walking two while permitting just four hits in recording her first career complete game shutout.
"We're proud of the way our team played in Saturday's second game," Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. "We came out ready and attacked the ball. Our loss in the first game of the day was a combination of great play from Mississippi State and some uncharacteristic defensive letdowns on our part. In this conference you have to come ready to play, every game for the entire season. Every team is good, and Mississippi State proved that today. Danielle Pieroni was excellent from the circle against a hot-hitting Bulldog team. Jen Lapicki continued to have a hot bat all day as did Tiffany Huff and Jessica Spigner."
Mississippi State catcher Chelsea Bramlett christened the contest with a clean single back up the middle. After Bramlett was called out for leaving the base early and Pieroni struck out right fielder Brittany Bell, the UT left hander walked left fielder Ka'ili Smith and hit first baseman Sammie Jo Bailey with a pitch, placing a pair of Bulldogs aboard with two down. Second baseman Ali Bainbridge delivered a single through the right side of the infield. Smith rounded third and headed towards the plate, but Tennessee right fielder Nicole Kajitani made a strong throw home to nail the runner and end the frame.
With one out in the bottom half of the first, senior left fielder Lillian Hammond singled to left over a drawn-in infield. Following a groundout, Spigner stepped into the batter's box and blasted a homer deep to left, plating the runner for a 2-0 lead. The big fly was the Santa Clarita, Calif., native's team-best 13th of the year, tying her with former Lady Vol Carrie Swinford for the UT freshman single-season home run record.
Pieroni settled down in the circle after a tough first inning, retiring six straight Bulldog hitters over the second and third frames.
The Bulldogs threatened in the top of the fourth as first baseman Sammie Jo Bailey walked and, with two outs, third baseman Jessie Bailey singled back through the middle, placing a pair on base. A wild pitch from Pieroni advanced the base runners up 60 feet into scoring position. Shortstop Jessie Spain lifted a high fly ball to deep left, but Hammond made an inning-ending grab at the base of the wall to bring MSU's half of the frame came to a harmless close.
Consecutive base knocks, opening the bottom of the fourth from Lapicki and Burchell, set the Lady Vols up with the potential to record a big inning. Two quick outs threatened to end the rally with no damage done on the scoreboard. Grieve came through in the clutch, however, by slapping a single up the middle, plating Lapicki to make it 3-0. Hammond walked to load the bases with the SEC RBI leader Huff stepping to the plate. The Saugus, Calif., product delivered once again by ripping a two-bagger just over the shortstop and into the left center field gap as three runs scored for a 6-0 advantage. Spigner followed with a sharp RBI single to left as Huff tallied Tennessee's seventh run of the contest. An Erinn Webb groundout ended the frame, but not before UT had recorded five runs on five hits to blow the match-up wide open.
Mississippi State left a runner stranded on second during the top half of the fifth, setting the stage for Tennessee to invoke the run-rule in the bottom half. A lead-off single from Lapicki, a base knock through the right side of the infield from Burchell and a game-ending double down the right field line from Kajitani brought home the eighth run of the match-up for the Lady Vols.
No. 9 Tennessee will complete its three-game series against Mississippi State on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET. The finale will be televised live on SportSouth, and the Sports Animal (AM 990, 99.1 & 99.3 FM) will have the radio broadcast with Mickey Dearstone behind the microphone. Live stats will be available through utladyvols.com via Gametracker.